We are approaching the one year anniversary of the release of Khel’s book, To Thee is This World Given, and we thought this was a good time to share a few of things we’ve learned over the last year and a half that don’t quite merit posts of their own.
1) Lightning Source/Ingram Spark has no objections to your selecting a 30% discount rate and making your books non-returnable.
When we settled on the prices for our print formats, we were under the impression that Lightning Source/Ingram Spark required a 55% discount rate. In order to make any profit from our print editions with a 55% discount rate, we had to set the prices much higher than we wanted to. When we learned that we could have set the discount rate at 30%, it was already too late — the prices had been locked into their ISBNs and printed on their covers. The only way we can change their prices is with a second edition, which we hope to be able to release in the not too distant future. So, before you choose the price of your books make absolutely sure you know what discount rates are available from your printer/distributor, and chose the lowest.
2) Make sure your cover designer gives you the JPEGS (without crop marks) of the front cover, back cover, spine, and flaps (if a hardback) to submit to Amazon for the look inside feature for your print editions.
You’ll need separate files for both your paperback and your hardback. If you can, get your interior designer to give you the complete PDF file with both the front and back covers included (that’s Amazon’s preferred way to receive the file). If you can’t, you can combine the JPEGS and the PDF text yourself with a PDF merger program. And if you don’t have the JPEGS, you can always scan your cover and merge it with your PDF file as a last resort (but keep in mind that the thicker your book, the worse it will look if you do this).
Also make sure your interior designer gives you a PDF of the front matter, first chapter, and back matter so that you have a professional sample chapter on hand. If you can have the front and back covers included as well, that is even better. So, before you choose a cover designer and an interior designer, make sure they will provide these files for you as part of your package. And if they won’t, find ones that will.
3) You will need your cover designer to create separate covers for your paperback and hardback, even if they have the same trim size.
Fiction hardbacks usually have book jackets, not printed case laminate covers. The information that appears on the back of a paperback, appears on the inside flaps of the hardback’s book jacket. The back of the jacket is usually text-free (even the bar code goes inside the back flap). If you order all of your covers at the same time, the additional formats should be less expensive than the first (at least they were for us), but hammer this all out before you place your order.
4) Unless your paperback and hardback formats are the exact same trim size, you will need your interior designer to create distinct interiors for each.
There is no fudging with the interior designs and you won’t save money on them by trying to push the two trim sizes as close to each other as possible in order to get away with using only one interior for both. Trim size should be a function of the number of pages and the thickness of the book — the fewer the pages, the smaller the trim size. Because hardbacks are inherently thicker than paperbacks, they usually have larger trims, you may not even be able to get a hardback as small as your paperback. So, budget for two interiors and pick the trim size best suited for each format.
The interiors for the second format should be less expensive than the first when you order them together (they were for us), but again, hammer this all out before you place your order.
5) Wait until your interiors are finished before you have your cover designer create the final cover files.
You have to know the exact spine dimensions before your covers can be created and sent to your printer. You can only know this when you have the final page count that includes all of the pages — the front matter and back matter, as well as text. If you don’t wait until you know for certain you may have to pay your cover designer for corrections. So, plan ahead to give yourself time for the interiors to be completed first.
6) It’s a hassle trying to get an eBook formatter to comply with your design preferences and non-scaleable style-sheets for your print interiors.
Interior design is not the same thing as eBook formatting. Because eBooks are scaleable, eBook formatting is more utilitarian and generic than the interiors of print books, and the relationship between the reader and the text is less personal. One example: hyphenation in an eBook is a function of whatever size font the reader chooses. In a print book, the hyphenation is fixed. Having one line end with “ev-” and the next start with “rybody” is awkward, even though not technically incorrect. Make sure you create a style sheet for your editors, formatters, and designers and make sure that they are willing to comply with it before you hire them. If they aren’t, you might be better off using someone else. So, just go with a true interior designer for your print editions, if you can afford it.
7) You do not need to purchase bar codes from Bowker.
Bar codes are provided free of charge by your printer/distributor when they set up your print covers. Bowker will charge you $25 per bar code– save your money! (You will need to purchase your ISBNs from them though; a bar code cannot be generated without one). Don’t forget that every print edition — hardback, paperback, 2nd edition, etc. — needs its own unique ISBN, and that eBooks do not have bar codes.
8) Your book is not automatically added to Bowker’s Books-In-Print database.
After you purchase and assign your ISBNs with Bowker, you will still need to add them to Books-In-Print yourself. Being listed in Books-In-Print isn’t necessary, but it does improve your visibility, open new avenues for sales, and enhance your legitimacy.
9) When offering free books in exchange for reviews, use Goodreads, not Story Cartel.
Story Cartel is a for fee service ($25) where you provide free copies of your eBook for a limited time to Story Cartel members in exchange for their honest reviews, except that Story Cartel does not require its members to follow through. We had ten downloads and received one review (we found out later our results were on par with what Story Cartel itself anticipates: ten downloads typically generate zero to one reviews). Goodreads, on the other hand, is free and out of twelve downloads, we received six reviews.
10) To get feedback from those who take review copies but do not post reviews, you can send a free Survey Monkey survey to them.
We emailed a survey to the fifteen people who did not post reviews of To Thee is This World Given to learn if they had read the book and to hear their thoughts about it if they had. Nine responded: Seven of the nine had read it. Three rated both the writing and plot as excellent. Three rated both the writing and the plot as good, and one rated the book as terrible (oh well, you win some, you lose some).
11) When providing free eBooks for reviews, use Amazon to gift them to the reviewer instead of emailing them a copy or providing them with a link to the text.
When you gift copies, each copy counts as a purchase, which helps your sales ranking, which offsets those copies that are taken but never reviewed. For more details, see our longer post on how to make Amazon work for you.
12) Goodreads giveaways are a better investment than Goodreads ads.
Giveaways generate verifiable exposure. We had three giveaways between September and December of last year: over 900 entered the first giveaway, over 700 the second, over 600 the third, and over 100 entrants friended Khel. The cost of each giveaway is only the price of the book plus shipping, a total of $45 for the three month period.
Unlike an ad, with a giveaway you know for certain how many people, who were at least somewhat interested, saw your book. Also, when someone enters a giveaway, your book is added to their “to read” list, which provides ongoing free advertising until they choose to remove it. The giveaways also provide a way to establish relationships with Goodreads members who have shown an interest in your book.
Goodreads ads, on the other hand, require a non-refundable upfront deposit. For each click the ad receives, part of the deposit is subtracted from the total until the entire amount is exhausted. Unless an ad is clicked, there is no way to determine if it has actually been seen. The ads are small and grey, and over the three months that we ran our ad it received no clicks, even though the number of times it had appeared on a Goodreads members’ home pages was over 9,000, and despite the fact that we were continually tweaking its text. If your ad is not clicked, your deposit just sits there, unable to be refunded and applied to anything else.
13) Goodreads is a forum first and foremost, and it behaves like one.
This probably seems obvious, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are planning to use it as a central part of your marketing plan. Forums are insular and difficult for new users to break into and users often need to have a certain personality defined by the existing members in order to fit in. We use Khel’s Goodreads page primarily as a point of contact.
14) A cover has to be shockingly bright to stand out online.
The particular color and the image are probably not as important as having a super bright thumbnail that pops out at the viewer, because:
Thumbnails are puny,
The internet is crowded,
And you have about a half of a second before someone moves on.
So, you need something that they can’t not look at.
Better bright pink, than not even noticed.
Update, Jan 2018: You can see our redesigned covers for To Thee is This World Given and its companions in the Quinquennium series here.
15) Front matter, including any opening quotes, are overlooked in eBooks because the books automatically open to the first page of the first chapter.
Khel’s book To Thee is This World Given opens with quotes that precede chapter one:
“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth and turned to happiness” (Charles Dickens)
“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” (Siddhartha).
We noticed that those who read the story in print had a different reaction to it, a reaction more in line with what Khel was hoping to achieve, than did those who read it as an eBook.
To be honest, we’re pretty stumped by this. It could just be selection bias, but we did notice that the opening quotes in the eBook version cannot be seen unless the reader deliberately chooses to view the front matter. We can’t be sure this accounts for the difference in responses between our print and our eBook readers, but it might, since even the font in which a book is printed impacts a reader’s reaction to it.
At first, we thought the fact that the quotes in the eBook were being jumped over was due to a mistake by our eBook formatter, 52 Novels, but it turns out that all modern eBooks jump over the front matter (Jim Crace’s novel Being Dead opens with a poem — but you’d never know it in the eBook unless you looked for it. In Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, this flaw was overcome in the eBook by putting the opening quote on a stand alone “part one” page).
We aren’t sure how to overcome this problem in eBooks that do not have multiple “parts.” Putting the quotes on the top of the first page under “chapter one” would prevent them from being missed, but then the reader might think they only relate to chapter one. If we discover a better solution, we’ll let you know (likewise, if you know how to fix it, we’d love to hear from you).
16) Make sure to plan your contest entries, crowdfunding projects (such as Kickstarter), and the like, so that notifications and results do not overlap.
A person can only take so much bad news at one time, so it’s best to prepare for the worst and stagger the receipt of any potential bad news, just in case.
17) Stick to your original goals.
Keep to your original marketing plan, activities, and goals. It’s easy to get sidetracked and start hopping from thing-to-thing willy nilly, but all you wind up doing is diluting your efforts and distracting yourself. If new goals and marketing ideas occur to you as you go, write them down and work them into your next marketing cycle’s plan.
18) And last but not least, listen to your heart.
There is a ton of advice telling you to do this and not that, but in the end you have to do what feels right for you and your book. If you are uncomfortable doing something, you aren’t going to do it successfully anyway, so it’s best to do something else.